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2019 INSAR in Review

This spring, Thompson Center autism experts and researchers joined thousands of international autism research experts in Montreal, Canada at the 2019 International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) annual meeting. Every year, INSAR brings together the world’s leading autism researchers to present their latest findings and to exchange ideas.

At the conference, several key themes developed from the numerous sessions, research poster presentations and panels, including important findings on suicide and self-injury among populations with autism; discoveries regarding genetics that extend beyond high-confidence risk genes, including potential connections between sleep problems and genetics in autism; and general discussions about improving healthcare for people with autism.

“I found the presentations and discussions related to comorbid mental health conditions in autism particularly useful,” said Dr. Rose O’Donnell, a psychologist and researcher at the Thompson Center. “Some of the researchers suggest that within the ASD population there is a significant risk for suicidal thoughts, even at a frighteningly young age. This has prompted some discussion around our current diagnostic and screening methods. It was also impactful to hear from many individuals with ASD and their perspectives on this current research.”

The Thompson Center was well represented at INSAR, with 12 TC researchers in attendance, presenting 13 different research posters covering a wide range of topics and disciplines. These topics include how to increase clinical capacity for autism care among rural and underserved communities, differences in symptoms among the sexes in adolescents with autism, and psychophysiological biomarkers of stress as predictors of behavioral issues.

“I was amazed by the breadth and depth of the topics discussed at this year’s INSAR,” said Dr. Stephen Kanne, Thompson Center executive director. “It really illustrates how much the field of autism research is maturing. INSAR is starting to deal with issues and problems beyond basic research, including access to care, health insurance, and how can we get better at increasing access. It’s great how discussions among researchers are moving into areas that impact the field in general. INSAR is always a great forum for our researchers and clinicians. Staying in touch with the state-of-the-art work in the field is vital for us to continue to search as leaders.”

“I think the thing that struck me most about INSAR was how many of the challenges we face here, with early identification and access to evidence-based interventions that are effective for those with autism, are similar to those faced by countries around the world,” said Kim Selders, a research and training specialist at the Thompson Center. “It was inspiring to see so many professionals from so many different disciplines and from so many different countries dedicating their careers to supporting individuals with autism. It was especially interesting to see the innovative research being done to find solutions for these challenges, most notably in very under-resourced areas, such as using technology community health workers to access families in need of services.”

Next year’s INSAR conference moves a little closer to home, reappearing in the U.S. after a few years abroad. Thompson Center researchers are already working on new projects they plan to present at the internationally renowned conference in 2020.